Monday, June 30, 2008

Monroe County NY School District Report Card


…giving voice and visibility to homeless kids...

June 30, 2008

Dear Monroe County Superintendents,

HEAR US is pleased to release the 2007-08 Monroe County School District Report Card indicating progress on identifying and serving homeless students in your county. As with most report cards, it is just a measurement that may or may not show need for improvement and it does not reflect your district’s attitude regarding homeless students.

Under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, schools must identify children and youth in homeless situations and provide appropriate services. Realizing that it is sometimes difficult to identify homeless students, several resources exist to guide and assist your district. The New York State Education Department provides superb technical assistance and materials through NYS Technical Education Assistance Center for Homeless Students, TEACHS. A complete array of online resources is available at HEAR US has created a very useful and powerful tool: My Own Four Walls, a series of documentaries featuring students talking about their experiences of homelessness and education.

Now, onto the report card…

This report uses poverty statistics by district to gauge the potential number of homeless students in your area. Using a very conservative number, 10% of children/youth in poverty in your district who will likely experience homelessness, HEAR US examined the number of homeless students identified by your district. Factored in was improvement from 2005 to 2006 if your district increased its number of students identified.

Although each school district is required to have a trained homeless liaison to facilitate identification and enrollment of homeless students, the overall responsibility to respectfully identify and assist homeless students is best accomplished by a district-wide approach. Sensitivity is increased and enrollment delays eliminated if your entire staff understand the importance of this challenge.

Unfortunately, homelessness is on the increase as poverty grows and foreclosures soar. Making sure homeless students have access to education will yield positive results for the students, their families, and their communities.

Please consider this report card a baseline indicator of Monroe County’s school districts efforts to properly identify homeless students. It is a work in progress. I will be happy to provide assistance to your districts so you may better identify, enroll and serve homeless students.



Diane Nilan


Numbers on the enclosed report are indicators of how many students were identified as homeless in Monroe County. All districts have room for improvement. Compliance with the law (
Subtitle VII-B of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, reauthorized by Title X, Part C, of the No Child Left Behind Act) isn’t the only reason. Homeless students can thrive in a stable, safe learning environment.

Even districts that scored lower in identifying homeless students are not far from turning in a better performance indicator next year.

The less poverty a district has, the harder it is to identify homeless students. Why? Because families and teens who lose their housing due to hardship—economic, domestic violence, natural disaster, personal set-backs—tend to want to avoid attention. They often fear that being identified as “homeless” will involve child protection authorities. Besides, it’s embarrassing.

Those who have scored higher identifying homeless students have a few tricks of the trade:

· They know addresses of motels or shelters (although few areas outside Rochester have shelters).

· They have trained enrollment personnel to be sensitively alert to signs of homelessness at the time families enroll or as youth attempt to enroll on their own.

· They know the definition of homeless extends beyond the obvious of living in a shelter or on the streets.

· They have set up communication within the district so people know who to contact if they suspect a student might be homeless.

· They have publicized the rights of homeless students in places where homeless families and teens will see them.

· They continually work to de-stigmatize homelessness among staff and students.

· They know what local agencies assist families or teens in homeless situations and encourage two-way communication.

· They are alert to natural disasters that displace low-income families.

· They care.


While poverty certainly is a major factor in homelessness, it is not the only one. The leading cause of homelessness among families is domestic violence, something that affects all income levels and is an incident that tends to not be talked about by those involved. Homeless teens often become homeless because of abuse in the home—of all income levels.

If a district has any poverty, and all Monroe County districts do, then it is likely that AT LEAST 10% of those in poverty will experience homelessness: eviction or foreclosure causes them to move in with family/friends or into motels, moving often as the current arrangement falls apart; natural disaster, forces families with scant resources to turn to family/friends, or motels, once short-lived assistance from disaster agencies runs out; break-up of marriages or relationships forces people out of the family residence; income/credit problems; and/or safety issues, physical, sexual and/or emotional abuse which renders their living situation untenable.

For any district to report 0 homeless students is a red flag. Even affluent districts will have students who fit the definition of homeless. It takes some effort on the part of the district’s liaison and other school personnel to be alert to homelessness.

Districts that were ranked higher for their abilities did not just accidentally identify homeless students. They’ve worked to establish an environment that makes it easier. Kudos to them, but don’t rest! Homelessness is increasing.

If your district showed improvement from the ’05 to the ‘06 years, that’s a good sign. Keep trying. Sensitizing staff and working with your local community will yield even better results next year.


Feel free to contact HEAR US for more information about resources available to school districts and communities. Also, excellent resources are available through NYS TEACHS and the National Center for Homeless Education.

Thanks for your efforts on behalf of all homeless students.


Diane Nilan


No comments: